Cuts to farming emissions the main sticking point in carbon plan debate

Higher end of 21%-30% target for farming being strongly resisted by some TDs

‘Let us come up with more inventive ways of reducing emissions rather than just slashing the herd numbers,’ said Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

‘Let us come up with more inventive ways of reducing emissions rather than just slashing the herd numbers,’ said Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The approach to cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector has emerged as the most divisive issue between the Coalition parties in the run-up to the publication of the Government’s first Carbon Action Plan.

The Government is yet to receive proposals from the Climate Action Advisory Council on the specific reductions that will be required under the five-year carbon budget, but ranges for the cuts needed in each sector to allow Ireland to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 have been circulated.

The carbon budget is expected to be published next week and passed by the Oireachtas early next month, paving the way for the publication of the Climate Action Plan 2021, which will specify the reduction targets for each sector.

The suggested range of emissions cuts for energy is 70-80 per cent, with plans for a major shift to renewable sources such as wind. For transport and housing, the range is 45-55 per cent, while for industry it is 40-50 per cent.

Agriculture, the single largest emitter, will be asked to make the smallest cuts, with a target of 21-30 per cent proposed. However, a large number of TDs, including Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Ministers, strongly oppose the higher target.

“I believe very strongly that 21 per cent is far enough and let us come up with more inventive ways of reducing emissions rather than just slashing the herd numbers,” said Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill, who chairs the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee.

Thinning the herd

Many rural Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs support a view that if the target goes above 25 per cent, a reduction to the national dairy herd will be unavoidable.

“The devil will be in the detail,” said Mr Cahill. “We realise we have to contribute our part and there is a recognition we have to reform.

“What annoys me is that there are a lot of things we can do to sequester carbon that would not impact on the national herd, including better use of slurry, use of modern technology, bio-digesters and solar panels.”

He added that “afforestation has been a joke in this country for the past five or six years”.

A Government source said the Green Party would be pushing for a 30 per cent cut in agriculture but that the other parties want it closer to 21 per cent.

“There is a battle ongoing on where the landing zone will be,” they said. “There will be huge reductions in fertiliser and also changes in land use.”

The advisory council has a statutory duty to propose the overall figure for emission reductions required in the five-year carbon budgets for 2021-2025 and 2026-2030. Together the two budgets will propose up to a 51 per cent reduction in Irish emissions over 2018 levels.

People close to the process expect the council will “backload” the budgets, with the targets for 2026-2030 predicted to be markedly higher.

“It has to be backloaded,” said one source. “I cannot see it any other way. The big changes we cannot do overnight.”